June 27th 2019 was the one-year anniversary of StudioPress being acquired by WP Engine. It’s hard to believe that it has already been that long, yet some days it feels like yesterday.
I am writing this from a coffee shop in Nashville, just a few blocks away from where this all started. Brian Clark and I met for dinner in December 2017 while attending WordCamp US, and over fine steaks, we agreed the time had come to sell StudioPress.
It seems that life often comes full circle, and things usually tend to happen for a reason. I hoped this post would have been published in the anniversary date, but somehow this feels more right. So here we are.
Over the past 12 months, a lot has changed—personally, and also here at StudioPress and with the Genesis Framework.
The Road Behind & The Road Ahead
On June 27th, 2018, I posted on the StudioPress blog revealing “An Important Announcement About the Future of StudioPress”. Of course, that important announcement was that StudioPress & Genesis had been purchased by WP Engine.
I chose the image above for that blog post because I felt it helped to illustrate the road behind and the road ahead.
The road behind included the people, products, technologies, and community that define what StudioPress & Genesis had become. Looking back I realized it was quite a legacy! The Genesis community is one of the most vibrant in WordPress with a rich heritage of helping each other get better together. The community we have all built together is special and preserving and growing our community was the number one thing on my mind at the time.
So much was on the line to preserve and grow the community, but the road ahead was not clear.
It wasn’t clear if WP Engine would actually invest in and help deliver even more value to the StudioPress products and Genesis. It wasn’t clear if WP Engine would actually support the StudioPress team joining WP Engine after the acquisition. It wasn’t clear if WP Engine would honor and grow the community who rely on Genesis to fuel their business and enrich their lives.
The road ahead was not clear.
The year following StudioPress & Genesis’ acquisition by WP Engine
As with many journeys, a great degree of planning went into the acquisition and the months that were to follow the official announcement to the world.
It was the care I observed WP Engine take in this planning and their “customer inspired” way in which they approached the actions they would take that initially helped me feel comfortable agreeing to the acquisition to begin with.
Of course, despite the good intentions of the people I was working with at the time, at the end of the day, those plans were just words. They had yet to be backed by action. The road ahead was not clear.
In the coming months, I was honored to not only watch, but actively participate in the next chapter in StudioPress’ story and see those words come to life through the actions of a ton of smart, thoughtful, and caring people.
To celebrate the growth in the StudioPress products, people, and community over the last year, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the more impactful moments.
One of our stated goals is to be the most open community in WordPress
Not long after the acquisition we held a mostly in-person product strategy meeting in Austin, TX where the entire StudioPress engineering team were in attendance including legacy folks like Nathan Rice and Matt Lawrence, but also new additions like Mike McAlister and John Parris from the Atomic Blocks team (also acquired by WP Engine) and WP Engine natives now working to support StudioPress like Sarah Wells, Bryan Smith, David Vogelpohl, and WP Engine founder & CTO Jason Cohen.
After a few days of discovery, discussions, ideation, and planning we came out of that meeting with a 4 overarching goals.
Goal 1: Genesis is the most-used front-end framework especially for WordPress freelancers & agency developers
Goal 2: Our products (Genesis, themes, blocks, & plugins) are known for quality
Goal 3: We are the clear and early leader in Gutenberg-powered site building tools
Goal 4: The Genesis community is one of the most open communities in WordPress
Considering that one of the four goals we came up with was in support of the community at large, that was a great sign. Again, these were just words though, yet to be backed by action.
Over the coming months myself and the rest of the team started to take action to meet our goal of being the most open community in WordPress.
We started by increasing our participation in Slack and Genesis WordPress on Facebook where we share our ideas about the future of Genesis, but also listen to what the community feels is important. Joanne Waltham a Genesis community organizer in the UK noted the increased activity and commented “Slack (Genesis WP) lit up after the acquisition!”.
Additionally, we launched the Genesis Community Survey to help give the community a voice in the future of Genesis and the other StudioPress products. Not only did we use this as a way to get a pulse for what the community actually needed, but we shared those results back with the community so everyone could benefit from the insights we learned.
One of the more special things we did to fulfill our goal of being the most open community in WordPress was to form the Genesis Shapers late last year. The Genesis Shapers are a representative group of Genesis community and product leaders from around the world who meet every month to discuss the future of Genesis.
In addition to the Shapers providing another channel for community feedback, each month we post a recap of what was discussed in the Shapers meeting so everyone else in the community can see what was discussed and have the chance to voice their own views in blog comments, in Slack, and through our open and active beta programs.
The current Shapers roster includes Bill Erickson, Carrie Dils, David Decker, Gary Jones, Greg Boser, Jennifer Bourn, Jon Brown, Jonathan Jeter, Lauren Gaige, Lee Anthony, Mike Hemberger, Nahuai Badiola, Remkus de Vries, Robin Cornett, Sara Dunn, and Sridhar Katakam.
Here is a photo from our first ever Shapers meeting at WordCamp US!
I’m really proud of the ways we’ve been able to give the community a voice, but I’m most proud of how willing everyone here is to ACTUALLY listen to that feedback and make decisions that honor the community we’ve all built together.
Investing In & Supporting The StudioPress Team
As any business owner who has sold their business will tell you, the people who work for you are often heavy on your mind during an acquisition. I know this was certainly the case for me.
Early after the acquisition it was clear that WP Engine was interested in investing in the StudioPress team. In addition to everyone being welcomed with open arms during a post-acquisition “getting to know you” event held in Austin, WP Engine quickly began to grow the team and provide resources the StudioPress and Genesis products had never had before.
First was the addition of a full time Product Manager (Bryan Smith) who helps organize the StudioPress product roadmap, research new features, and help the team achieve their roadmap goals. The results of this and many other efforts is that the StudioPress engineering team is the most on-time engineering team at WP Engine!
Additionally, StudioPress pillars like Jen Baumann, Marcos Schratzenstaller, and Nick Cernis were reassigned to support the StudioPress products and Genesis full time vs. the patchwork contributions they had made in the past. Having their contributions full time has been game changing and has allowed the whole team to make more progress than ever. Nick’s journey in particular has been very special to watch especially considered the fact that he has been picked as the next release lead of Genesis itself!
Increasing the speed of innovation
As I mentioned earlier in this post, the investment in the StudioPress team has resulted in new product and feature releases at a pace that was faster than ever before.
After a ton of interviews of people within the Genesis community, one of the first things we addressed after the acquisition was what David Vogelpohl of WP Engine called “the most annoying problem on the Internet”, meaning that when you installed a theme on a new site your site looked nothing like the demo! As we all know, it often took many complex steps to get your site looking like the demo.
To address this problem, Nathan and the rest of the R&D team set out on a mission to make this process frictionless by creating a “One-Click Theme Setup” feature within Genesis itself. Of course, we could have just created that technology within the StudioPress themes, but it was important to us that all Genesis theme developers be able to take advantage of these great new capabilities so we rolled the functionality into Genesis core itself.
With these new capabilities, we also updated key StudioPress themes to take advantage of OCTS to deliver a delightful experience to people creating sites with StudioPress themes. The result are themes that load demo content, complementary plugins, and beautiful Gutenberg blocks ready to edit in under 30 seconds. This GIF of one of our newer themes Revolution Pro shows a real-time view of OCTS in action. This GIF isn’t edited (other than the text overlay) or sped up. The theme setup really is this fast!
In addition to OCTS, we also delivered new StudioPress themes, made all StudioPress themes free for WP Engine customers, added super easy support for launching AMP sites in partnership with Google, released a ton of long-needed improvements to known ~bugs, enhanced our available Genesis CLI commands, and moved support for Genesis up to more modern versions of PHP and WordPress (long asked for by 3rd party Genesis product developers and agencies).
Phew! That’s a lot!
Of course, there were many other areas of innovation we delivered over this time frame, but to be able to watch and participate in all that accelerated innovation was another special moment for me and yet another example of words coming to life with action.
The road still ahead
Just like the day of the acquisition, right now the road still ahead is not clear. The successes of the past are actions, but the plans for the future that Nathan, Matt, Nick, Jen, Bryan, and the rest of the StudioPress team have are again, just words.
Time will tell if all the smart, caring, and thoughtful people working on Genesis & the StudioPress products will continue their pace of innovation, will continue their support of each other, and will continue their commitment to be most open community in WordPress.
As I think of the road behind and the road still ahead, I’m grateful to have been part of this journey and that people I know and trust are working hard every day to turn their words into action and help the Genesis community continue to get better together.